Artificial intelligence will soon be available to analyse process equipment data and advise an engineer when an asset needs to be repaired or replaced.
That is according to AVT Reliability business improvement coordinator Oliver Pogmore, who says that within the next decade, reactive maintenance – otherwise known as ‘firefighting’ – will largely have been replaced with more preventative and predictive measures.
“As firefighting is reduced, engineering teams will morph into reliability divisions within the plant, sharing knowledge and working with other departments within the business. In 10 years, technology, Industry 4.0 and very low-cost hardware will be much more widespread, more machines will be in built, with more sensors and data to be analysed,” Pogmore says.
it is now possible to share and compare your local machine condition data with other similar items of equipment across your plant, or better still, with other equipment at multiple process plants within your business, wherever they are located globally,
Ian Pledger, service engineer, Schaeffler
Looking even further ahead, Pogmore predicts there will also be an emerging leader in open source ‘capture all’ software. He says this would tie into the various hardware suppliers and manufacturers, thereby bringing all the captured data into one system.
This is virtually unrecognisable from how condition monitoring began. It started out as an expensive and sometimes overlooked practice, designed to create a profit-boosting middle ground between throwing away good equipment too soon and letting it run to failure.
Pogmore adds that what would have been relatively expensive in terms of power and technical capabilities around five years ago, is now commonplace.
One example of this is a web-based system, developed by AVT Reliability, called Machine Sentry, which connects to the internet via most Android tablets.
Through Machine Sentry, data is now more easily available to the whole team involved in plant reliability, which ensures everything is checked, running and efficient, Pogmore adds.
He says Industry 4.0 is also already having a major impact on condition monitoring, adding that the power of Cloud computing and secure data storage is enabling more opportunities for operators to monitor the condition of their plants.
Meanwhile, Schaeffler service engineer Ian Pledger says that, to date, most condition monitoring systems have been used as local systems, collecting vibration data from machines and using analysis algorithms and a rolling bearing database to check for signs of wear, defects or other unusual behaviour.
“And while this works very well for many companies, it is now possible to share and compare your local machine condition data with other similar items of equipment across your plant, or better still, with other equipment at multiple process plants within your business, wherever they are located globally,” he says.
Visual inspections should not be overlooked in their importance. We maintain these in our Machine Sentry software because they are so valuable. It would be difficult to replace this valuable, hands-on expert view of the state of an asset
Oliver Pogmore, business improvement coordinator, AVT Reliability
Pledger says that because of digitalised, Industry 4.0 technologies, it is now possible for products to collect and process valuable data on the condition of a machine or process and then convert this data into added-value services.
An example of this technology is Schaeffler’s Cloud-capable FAG SmartCheck condition monitoring device which allows a point-of-entry into the digitalisation of machines and equipment based on vibration monitoring.
According to Pledger, the latest version uses a machine-tomachine interface to provide a direct link to the Schaeffler Cloud or to any other platform based on IBM technology.
“It’s also possible to communicate with other Cloud technologies via a Schaeffler gateway or alternative gateway solutions using an OPC/UA interface,” he adds. Pledger says it is Schaeffler’s aim to transform conventional mechanical products such as bearings and integrate them into the digital world.
Looking to the future
This, he says, represents an important step towards a future in which both complex systems and simple assemblies and machines will have easy access to digitalisation and the Internet of Things.
“For example, automated rolling bearing diagnosis and ‘remaining useful life calculations’ can be used to provide precise information on the condition of the bearing and therefore of the machine or process being monitored, which in turn allows specific actions to be recommended,” Pledger says.
He adds: “It will even be possible to use actual load data to make adjustments to operational machine processes in real time.”
However, while advances in technology are welcomed across the process industries, the role of the engineer must be addressed.
Pogmore thinks maintenance engineers will become increasingly more focused on reliability. “Visual inspections should not be overlooked in their importance. We maintain these in our Machine Sentry software because they are so valuable. It would be difficult to replace this valuable, hands-on expert view of the state of an asset.”
Pledger, meanwhile, predicts over the next decade we will start to see process engineers spending less time diagnosing faults on machines and process plant, as this data will be collected and reported automatically using smart condition monitoring systems.
“Collected condition monitoring data can be provided in a format suitable for whoever needs to see the data within the business or global group. Different process engineers, maintenance staff, machine operators and senior plant managers will cherry pick what information they need from this pool of machine and process data and use it as they see fit to make improvements to processes, machine efficiencies and ultimately business profit.”
He also suggests industry could eventually see the emergence of ‘dark’ factories, whereby machines, automated plant and robots carry out all their work in an energy efficient, ‘lights out’ scenario, where there is little or no human intervention required.
“[Exceptions] would be when the condition monitoring alarm limit on a machine or process is reached, new raw material is required for the process, or machine breakdown,” Pledger says.
Both Pogmore and Pledger also agree the cost of implementation is likely to decrease over the coming years as condition monitoring systems become easier and faster to install, as well as becoming less costly to develop.
Pledger says: “As technologies mature, the price of these systems will decrease. Small, affordable devices, such as the Schaeffler FAG SmartCheck, are already making investment payback periods significantly shorter for our process industry customers.”
Yet despite the advance of technology, there still remains space for more traditional condition monitoring techniques.
In a typical process plant, there are many different items of rotating equipment, plant and machines; some of which are process-critical machines that would benefit greatly from fixed, online condition monitoring systems.
“For less critical items, the patrol monitoring method may be sufficient, whereby the condition of the machine is routinely checked – often using offline handheld condition monitoring systems – for signs of wear or deterioration,” says Pledger.
One of Schaeffler’s customers, a cement works based in Derbyshire, benefits from this type of monitoring.
During each visit, a Schaeffler field service engineer takes vibration measurements, using a FAG Detector III handheld vibration monitoring device, to identify any deterioration of rolling bearings and other general mechanical components on a variety of plant and equipment at the cement works.
This equipment includes motors, hydraulic pumps, dust fans, screw conveyors, belt drives, blowers and gearboxes.
After analysing the recorded vibration data, Schaeffler says it is able to report on all the pieces of equipment and recommend any repairs or remedial action that is required.
Applications engineer David Goves says: “We advised the customer to check grease levels on several items. Due to signs of early bearing wear or gear defects, other recommendations included replacing the bearings in a gearbox or motor.”